Jussi Adler-Olsen, Disgrace, translated from the Danish by Kyle Semmel (London: Penguin, 2012). A second, rather lacklustre outing for Carl Mørck of Department Q 2.5 stars
Opening line: Another shot echoed over the treetops.
Mercy, the first novel in the Danish ‘Department Q’ series, was one of my top reads of 2011 and I was very much looking forward to reading this follow-up. However, as is sometimes the way with that tricky second novel, Disgrace didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of its predecessor, and is ultimately an uneven read.
While the cold-case format and the conflicted figure of police detective Carl Mørck remain engaging, the depictions of the suspects in the twenty-year-old murder of two teenagers are disappointingly one-dimensional and let the novel down. Spoiled, fabulously wealthy individuals, they’re shown using money and social status to indulge their sadistic desires in a number of over-the-top, yet yawningly predictable ways. Having failed to accept them as realistic depictions, I tried viewing them as representative of a larger malaise within Danish society or the product of capitalism gone mad – but didn’t feel that either of these readings worked particularly well either.
A rare exception to the novel’s monochrome characterisations is the figure of Kimmie, the only girl to have been part of the group, whose more complex psychological profile allows us to understand the origins of her behaviour, and her reasons for choosing to live rough in the present. Her status is that of both abuser and abused, and her representation raises some interesting questions about gender and power relations. In this respect, the novel links back positively to Mercy, whose core strength was the strong depiction of its central female protagonist Merete.
I’m still keen to read the next instalment in the series, as the concept of a cold-case Department Q led by maverick detective Mørck has plenty of potential. However, if the third novel is closer to Disgrace than Mercy as a reading experience, I may call it a day. Either way we’ll be hearing more of the series shortly, as according to the publisher, both the first and second novels are to be adapted by the makers of the Stieg Larsson films.
You can read an extract from Disgrace here.
Mrs. P’s review of Mercy is available here.
Thanks to Penguin for providing Mrs. Peabody Investigates with a review copy.
Mrs. Peabody awards Disgrace an underwhelmed 2.5 stars.
Couldn’t agree more, plus his Syrian, whatever, sidekick is starting to get on my nerves! Still borrowed them from Bromley House library, so will probably read the next one. Have to say they have an excellent selection of crime books, especially Scandi crime. In fact that’s where I first came across Leif Persson. BH is similar to the London Library, has some nice comfortable arm chairs to while away a couple of hours!
Thanks, brainbird2012. I’ve just looked up the Bromley House Library – fantastic. No finer place to while away a couple of hours than a well-stocked and armchair-filled library.
I’m interested to see that Sara, who left the comment after you, likes the Assad character: divided opinion there (see my reply to her in a sec for more).
I agree the first book was better, but I still enjoyed this one as well. Also, I like the Assad character 🙂 Looking forward to read his next book!
Thanks, Sara. I liked Assad’s character and role in Mercy, but didn’t feel that his character was developed significantly in Disgrace: there’s perhaps a risk that he becomes a bit two-dimensional and stereotypical? For me, as you’ll have gathered from the review, characterisation was the big problem with this novel. I felt that lots of the key characters were rather ‘cardboard cut-out’, and was craving some further nuance. Glad you enjoyed though, and I would stress that I do still want to give the third one a go!
Yes, I agree with you on the characterisation in Disgrace. I felt the whole book was a bit “empty”, just the crime story there, nothing much. I kept on hoping for more (in terms of characters) but then the book ended. Umpf. Alright… maybe the 3rd book will make up for that! 😀
Another thing I didn’t mention earlier…
The film based on Mercy is in the making. Carl is played by Anders [something something] or ‘the guy who plays Robert Zeuthen in “The Killing III”‘ and Assad is played by Fares Fares (Swedish actor, fairly popular, see. “Jalla Jalla!”). I’m curious to see how it turns out. Who knows…
Thanks, Sara – it’s interesting having just seen The Killing to imagine Zeuthen in the role of Carl. That could work well… Thanks for the update 🙂
Yes, I haven’t seen many films with him, just “Italian for Beginners” and “King’s Game”, a comedy and a political thriller respectively. In the first he played a priest and in the second he played a journalist, but they are not exactly recent. I think he’d be good as Carl Mørck. We’ll see…
As for the actor who will play Assad, I’ve seen him in quite a few comedies and he is brilliant. He also played a few serious roles, so I have no idea how Assad’s character will be portrayed. There are a few funny moments in the books, but I hope the whole character won’t be portrayed as simply a tension-breaking, funny intermezzo.
Back to the books, now that I have skimmed through both ebooks (alas, I am a semi-converted ebooker, for logistic reasons -I travel quite a bit-) Mercy is definitely better than Disgrace. Definitely.
Thanks, Sara. It sounds like the film has lots of potential. The most important ingredients are good writing and good acting in my view.
On a long train journey myself tomorrow – the ereader is currently charging 🙂
Yep. I agree with you on this one as well 🙂
Oh yes, the ereader is so practical. I just don’t like it for textbooks or reference books, which I prefer to flip through “the old way”. But gosh, I’m saving so much space at home! 😉
Funnily enough, I was just looking around at my groaning bookshelves and giving thanks for the ereader. It’s particularly useful when getting through high volumes of crime…
hehe… 😉 Indeed… I quite like sorting the series.
Which ereader do you use? (mhmmm, maybe I should search the blog, you might mention it somewhere…) I use a Sony PRS-T1. Simple and reads pretty much any format 🙂
Oh, it’s the standard one by the very well-known online bookseller (not so pleased with them due to their alleged tax evasion at the moment, so no namecheck here!)
Fair enough, no namechecks 😉
Speaking of The Killing… Do you think it would be a good book? Who do you think should have written it? Just curious. The series are amazing and I loved the latest 2 episodes. I just wondered if a book would have had the same effect. (Apologies, I didn’t know where to post my OT question 😀 )
Hi Sara! There is a novelisation of The Killing by David Hewson that was recently published. I’m not sure how it’s gone down overall, but it got a good write-up in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/03/the-killing-david-hewson-review. Personally, I would favour the original TV series over a book any day, due to the loss of the Danish language and the fine acting. But if I had to choose an author, I think I’d go with one of the Scandi writers (Mankell, Indridason, Marklund).
ooohhh… Thank you, I didn’t know about that one. Funny thing, no one has commented on the article… since June! Strange.
The series has had / is having such a huge success that writing an equally successful book would be challenging, I suppose. I agree with you, I would have gone for a Scandi writer and for some reason, I think a male Scandi writer. Just an idea… 🙂
Film update: now Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Borch in “The Killing III”) is listed as Carl Mørck.
Hypothesis: they are scanning them all… next one to be listed will be Brix (Asbjørn is too young) 😉
Hmmm – interesting casting. I haven’t felt that Kaas has had too much of a chance to shine in TK3. He’s apparently one of Denmark’s top actors, but there isn’t really enough room for him to show off his acting skills given all that’s going on in each episode.
Thanks for the update, Sara!
Anytime! I could almost be your film-related wingblogger 😉
I’ve seen some films with Kaas and I can’t say he’s a bad actor. But then again, there are so many good scandinavian actors… which one to cast? They also probably all know each other 😛
From a physical appearance point of view, I think “Zeuthen” matched with Mørck’s character a bit more than Kaas. He is also a bit shorter and less fit than Kaas, which contrasts really well the tall and slender physique of the actor casted as Assad. Personally, I think this contract would have been interesting. But this is just the idea I got from reading the books. Another reader might have imagined another type of person.
That is actually what I like of books: to a certain extent, they leave you to picture the character in your head. Films, series and so on, just present you with one visual interpretation of him/her. In that respect, I prefer books 🙂
Mrs. P – Thanks for this excellent review. You’ve put your finger on exactly what makes the second book not quite live up to the first. And I have to agree with Sara that I so much wanted Assad’s character to be more richly developed. I hope #3 will do that…
Thanks very much, Margot – yes, me too. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the addition of Rose either; again, it felt like more character development was needed. I SO hope that the third in the series returns to form…
Me too. I thought Disgrace was very disappointing, holes in the plot, derivative characters and a feeling the author had rushed it out to capitalise on the success of Mercy.
It’s a shame, isn’t it? It also makes me realise the amount of effort that must go into writing a series that successfully maintains a high quality in relation to characterisation and plot. Not an easy task, by any means.
I am glad to see your review, and I may not read this book. Just so many books to read, and as the saying goes, so little time. (And I do like Assad, a shame he’s not well-developed in this book.)
Nothing further to say, except that I hope the film version of Mercy comes over here.
Thanks, Kathy. Yes, I think we sometimes have to be selective, especially given how many crime novels there are out there awaiting our readerly attention! I’m keen to see how the film version of Mercy works out. I hope it makes it to the States too.
Mrs. P.: I agree it was not as good as the first book but I liked it more than you.
I thought there was a progression in the development of Assad and a more complex working relationship at the office with Rose joining the Department than many mystery series where few, if any, major continuing characters are introduced in the second novel.
Of the young, rich and evil, they were shallow wicked people. I thought there was enough development of them for the book. I just thoroughly despised them but tried not to let the dislike affect my thoughts of them in considering the book.
Thanks very much for your comments, Bill. I’m glad to have an alternative perspective and that you felt there were positive aspects to the book.
You’re right to point to the introduction of Rose. I thought she had the potential to be an interesting character, but didn’t feel as drawn to her as I had to Assad by the end of the first book. I wonder if the idea is to build the department through the addition of a new character in successive books?
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